Gotham: Zero Year

Well, so this sort of spiraled out of control.

Recently, the subtitle for the fourth season of Gotham was revealed. It might not be set in stone - 'Fallen City' was replaced by 'Heroes Rise' before it aired, which may have been a result of a major rewrite of the last eight episodes. However, since the second season each half year has had a separate subtitle: 'Rise Of The Villains', 'Wrath Of The Villains', 'Mad City' (my favorite) and the above.

The subtitle for season four part one is 'Dawn Of Night', and it's aptly put. There is a strong possibility this will turn out to be the show's final season. While its ratings are respectable, they aren't exactly astronomical, and the Batman television franchise is valuable. Apart from this, it's an obvious allusion to "Dark Knight", which is where Bruce is headed, and besides, it fits well with the whole dystopian trajectory of the show.

This is my general overview of Gotham up to season three and my forecast for season four.


Gotham is my favorite show on television. This doesn't mean I can't be upset with it - at times vehemently so. Yet, it has a marvelous cast, some fantastic characters and relationships, and when the show is on its "A-game" I think nothing can touch it.

Given how the latter part of the third season played out, Gotham is changed forever. I'm not clear what the show will be. New alliances have been made and certain relationships look irreparably broken. Some character arcs have stood still or even regressed, others have catapulted, not necessarily for the better. I will discuss all of this from the perspective of a working knowledge of Batman mythology and an understanding of leaked hints to date. For those of you intimately in tune with the Reddit game[1] and other fora, part of it might be old hat; that can't be helped. There are more spoilers here than I can count.

Initially I was to write two articles - the one you're reading now, and a continued breakdown of the relationship between Bruce and Selina on the show, as these are the most important characters on the show in a long-term perspective. However I decided to merge them into a single piece. This is as you cannot understand the one without the other, and as Gotham is increasingly turning into the story of Bruce Wayne. As Bruce Wayne on Gotham is a phenomenal character, this much should be commended.

In order to make heads or tails of this, I'll begin with a simple question with a not-so-simple answer.

What constitutes Gotham canon?


The Gotham showrunners rarely go deep into discussions about the technicalities of comic book history, which I guess makes sense for a show determined to carve out its own place as a modern retelling of the origin of Batman. It is impossible to stay faithful to all previous mainstream adaptations even if sacrificing all attempts at originality - you try making sense of Burton, The Animated Series, Nolan and Rebirth at the same time! - and this is what makes the "canon argument" against Gotham so specious.

Of course, that doesn't mean that Gotham is utterly ignorant of canon, so it's a good idea to have an understanding of their interpretation.

Gotham started as something looking to lead up to a Year One[2] touch and feel. It was all about corrupt politicians and mobsters with no superhero in sight, feeding off the turf war between Falcone, Maroni, Fish and the Penguin.

Fish shooting Salvatore Maroni in the head was the symbolic death of that show. From here on, we move into the age of the supervillains, and with the last episode of season three, the last "pure mobster" is removed from the narrative. It's up to you if that's a good or a bad thing.


Gotham also directly lifted elements of Batman: Earth One[3] from the pilot onward. The Earth One series is of special significance to Gotham since it's penned by Geoff Johns, who is the current Chief Creative Officer and president of DC Comics. This is perhaps Gotham's strongest creative influence and it's a good one, though it's overstating it to say that Gotham is Earth One.

As an example, Earth One gave us Alfred the Battle Butler.[4] More than that it gave us a very human Batman, one who started fighting crime out of a compelling need and not necessarily because he was any good at it. Earth One never shows Bruce Wayne leaving Gotham or training with mystical masters. In fact, the "couple of years of training by Alfred" - a common criticism of Bruce Wayne on Gotham - looks exactly like what he's had in that comic. He's impatient and perhaps a little overconfident.


Throughout the second season, Gotham moves through an eclectic assortment of influences, mostly to great effect. Edward Nygma was effectively fleshed out to the best Riddler ever in a moving picture. Silver St. Cloud, a sultry Bronze Age girlfriend of Bruce, was retooled as a villainous seductress. Azrael, a post-Crisis villain-turned-anti-hero, was thrown together with her and Tigress - a Golden Age character actually predating Batman[5] - as the "Galavan family" scheming to take over Gotham. In short, it was spirited storytelling, the character work on Gotham was stellar, and the few misfires were easily forgivable.


When season three started it became apparent that the game had changed again. On one hand, this is where Gotham first really starts to draw from New 52 mythology, with the "Joker with the stitched-on face", their take on Lincoln March and the Court of Owls moving out in the open. On the other, it's the first where it starts to incorporate 'Batman Begins' and noticeably steal themes from Nolan's adaptation.

More than anything this was Gotham stepping on the pedal, and the results were often far from ideal. We first saw this with the recasting of Ivy, where the writers waved a magic wand over her and effectively destroyed the original character in favor of a generic bombshell. We later saw this with the introduction of Ra's Al Ghul and the show forcing Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle into proto-Bat and Catwoman.

The problem is that in order to do this they had to rob the characters of agency and steer the narrative by Hammers of God. Nowhere is the former more apparent than in Bruce's storyline, and nowhere is the latter more apparent than with poor Selina.


As an example, the Joker arc - while great in its own right - represents the first time where Gotham steals the form but discards the function of the inspiration. The significance of the Joker's cut-off face was that he did it to himself. In 'Smile Like You Mean It'... it just happens to him.

This goes double for Bruce Wayne. I routinely criticize Batman Begins for basically making Batman "just another ninja", with Ra's Al Ghul being the one teaching him about symbolism - this never happened in any previous adaptation. Still, while that robs him of some agency, at least he voluntarily struck out to live among the poor and understand the underworld, travelling the the world for years, discarding his identity and even being declared dead.

Gotham removes even that - though, to be fair, the "being gone for years" would have been undoable - with the "Shaman" or "Sensei" simply whisking him away to a secret monastery to talk about how he'll have to become a "dark hero." It's not even a case of the villains provoking the birth of Batman - and all stories feature that to some degree with the Wayne murders. It's a case of the villains literally telling him who to be.


As well as with Bruce, when we come to Selina's storyline, the showrunners resemble an angry toddler furiously trying to smash a round object into a square hole. It's a case of the show not allowing the characters to be who they are - as in, who they were established to be throughout the series - but rather opting to turn them into something more in line with a poorly understood, imaginary main comic canon. Show logic be damned!

Catwoman's a selfish, untrustworthy thief? Let's make her a selfish, untrustworthy thief. Batman and Catwoman don't know who the other is? Let's make them not know who the other is. Batman shuts everyone out in his quest for justice? Let's make that happen too. For a story as intricately woven and beautiful as Bruce and Selina's relationship, this is truly heartbreaking.

Selina's transformation over the last episodes is all about reinforcing the very traits her character journey has been about escaping from. The credo is simple. Her mother shows up only to betray her. "Trust no-one." Bruce goes behind her back to cut a deal with her. "Trust no-one." She gets pushed to her death through a window because she can't imagine Thomas will really kill her. "Trust no-one." She returns to Bruce's side to offer her sympathy, but he won't forgive her for leaving him. "Trust no-one."

Now at the start of the fourth season, we'll see her team up with Tabitha Galavan. She seeks her out for a goal in life beyond survival, but what goal will Tabitha give her?


First of all, Tabitha has nothing positive to teach her - Selina already knows how to steal, fight, cheat, maim and kill just fine, and she's got enough street cred to last a lifetime. If we're speaking "character evolution" rather than "leather tights and whips", she's a terrible mentor.

Rather, Tabitha will almost certainly prove a bad influence. With Tabitha being a serial killer who tried to murder Alfred and schemed to murder Selina's ex-boyfriend, any further relationship with Bruce would make no sense, at least until this partnership ends. Until such time, I fear this contact will only serve to erode the future Catwoman's character and turn her into a cartoonish villain. Unlike Tabitha, Catwoman is no sadistic murderer or brute, yet that's what's at the extreme end of Selina's negative spectrum.


It's now confirmed that "Bruce and Selina's relationship will crumble"[6], as if it hadn't already. Still, they'll apparently strike up some form of relationship as "proto-Batman" and "Catwoman" while Selina fails to note it's even him. Never mind that she's dated him, trained him, fought him and been his best friend for three years.

There's nothing much to be happy about for fans of Tabitha either. She'll probably get more screentime, but it's more than even money she'll be confined to the role of "evil teacher" and "warning example."

Essentially, I think there are two ways this could go. The first scenario is Selina eventually telling Tabs to get lost, returning both characters to square one and wasting half a season for both in the process. The second is Tabitha softening up to Selina enough to make for a heart-wrenching death scene, which will lead to her canonization and her Curriculum In Being A Terrible Person staying with Selina forever. Neither are palatable outcomes.


With Bruce separated from Selina he loses his only link to the underworld and she loses her only link to upper-class society. This instantly removes the class conflict angle that's been a rare treat on this show. This is key for Batman and Catwoman. They are on juxtaposing class journeys - Batman reaches down to the lumpenproletariat† while Catwoman reaches up to the bourgeoisie.

On this show we've only really seen the former. Ever since season one - and certainly since ‘This Ball of Mud and Meanness’ - Bruce has shown an active interest in taking command of and blending into Selina’s home environment, “the streets”, and only by returning the favor will Selina be able to level that inequality.

Now we might see none of it.

We're also told that Bruce's relationship with Jim will be important this season. In all honestly, this can only be good, as Jim with Bruce is much better person than Jim without Bruce is, and as Jim might possibly take up a Harvey Harris-esque role[7] to Bruce's young vigilante. That could make for Jim's first stint of actual character progress for the entire show.


As for Edward, we find out that after he's thawed out (was there any doubt,) he'll be angry with Oswald (was there any doubt,) but he'll also be "a different Edward." If they're going to do "different" when they've already done "awkward but mostly normal" and "full-blown sociopath", I'd think the only option is the "reformed Riddler"[8], where he comes out of a coma apparently cured of his insanity and starts to work as a private investigator. This would certainly be a twist and while rather abrupt, that too could provide good character moments. Yes, I could be delusional, but I thought I'd throw it out there.


When it comes to the Riddler, there are many fans - or perhaps I should rather say "loud" fans; it's hard to tell which, and the viewing numbers seem virtually unphased by the hysteria - who are very angry with the show destroying his relationship to Oswald, complaining about "queerbaiting" and consequentially abusing "The P Word"‡ about virtually every aspect of the show. While I certainly hated the Isabella storyline with a fiery passion, I find myself not being too grouchy about this. If nothing else, they've given both characters a very personal vendetta against the other, and it's a foregone conclusion that the last chapter isn't written - it just remains to be seen if it'll be a good one.

Speaking of Isabella, in perhaps the very most giggle-inducing tidbit from our showrunners, Stephens reveals that "he'd love to bring her back... again. But we've got to find a way to do it that feels like it's fresh." That's... rich, but if they do, perhaps they'll have no choice but to rationalize her character in the process. And, no. It's now evident they had absolutely no clue what to make of her, and that she was only inserted as a bizarre synthetic obstacle to Edward and Oswald's friendship. On a sane show, this sort of thing should never happen.


The two major villains being teased for season four are Scarecrow and Ra's Al Ghul. As for Scarecrow, as long as he isn't recast he should prove a good sounding board for David's Bruce, seeing as he's of similar age.[9] It's also quite obvious why they're telling this story now, as a way to get Bruce to "confront his inner fears" leading to adopting the Bat persona. As for Ra's, we're told that all his actions "circle around the core idea that Ra's views Bruce as his heir."[10] This is the clearest hint the show will actually introduce his daughter, Talia - mother of Damian Wayne, the fifth Robin - as a way for him to tie Bruce to his family. As this is pure speculation, I'll leave that with no further comment.

While Gotham may be heading into its final stages, ironically this might be a good time for a new viewer to get invested in the show. It might even be better and more enjoyable for them than for those of us who remember the show that used to be. What we're actually left with after the last finale is a slew of characters very much resembling their traditionally understood comic-book counterparts. David pulling off an "intimidating Batman figure" at his age will take a supernatural feat of acting, but if there's one thing I've learned it's that you can trust him with anything. Most of the villains on the show are nearly fully formed. We've even got our Solomon Grundy.

This is where I'll conclude. My feelings about the show's future remain guarded, but I'm committed to seeing it through. Are we in for a treat or a fiasco? I don't know. On Gotham, anything can happen.


Sources:

[1]: /r/Gotham Reddit
[2]: Wikipedia: Batman: Year One
[3]: Wikipedia: Batman: Earth One
[4]: Den of Geeks interviews Sean Pertwee, Sep. 2015
[5]: Action Comics Vol. 1 #1: "Superman, Champion of the Oppressed", June 1938
[6]: Comicbook.com interviews David Mazouz, July 2017
[7]: Detective Comics Vol. 1 #226:"When Batman Was Robin", Dec. 1955
[8]: Detective Comics Vol. 1 #822: "E. Nigma, Consulting Detective", Oct. 2006 and onward
[9]: IMDb: Charlie Tahan
[10]: TV Guide, printed magazine, July 2017


"Lumpenproletariat": "The class of outcast, degenerated and submerged elements that make up a section of the population of industrial centers", term coined by Karl Marx, "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon", 1852.
"Problematic"

6 comments:

Trey Pharr said...

As I said in other places, Selina wasn't developed well after her short story arc with her mother. She doesn't appear in a third of the last nine episodes and is in a coma for one other.

I do wonder if her teamup with Tabitha would've worked better after her short arc with her mother. At that point she could've learned from three characters instead of just one (Barbara and Butch too). And then when Barbara and Tabitha have their fallout Selina could've decided to break away then.

It was as if the writers were deadset on giving her that Batman Returns-esque scene and waiting until the finale to give her a tangible character direction for shock value.

I hope their plans for her for S4 are better than I think as well. I have decided to stay on board.

As for the show introducing Talia potentially, the last time the show introduced another Bruce love interest it had a good payoff, so I am a little optimistic there.

This show has a habit of starting seasons better than ending them, here's hoping S4 starts and ends well.

Anonymous said...

So far, there has been no mention of Talia. The spoilers I've seen on reddit include (and SPOILER WARNING, duh):

1. Scarecrow comes back as a "main villain" (with the best design since Batman Begins) but I don't know for how long. Half of a season? All of it?
Either way, I'm all hyped up for it!

2. Barbara being brought back by Ra's and being trained by him. Again, this sounds promissing!

3. Season's two halves will be based on Year One and Long Halloween. Delicious, right?

4. Lee COMES BACK. Yes, Lee comes back again. Apparently though, they have some plans for her this time around. She's goint to be dark and work with Salomon Grundy and Riddler. As vague as that sounds, this also sounds promissing because they're finally giving her something to do other than being a pointless love interest.

5. Riddler will work with Lee and Grundy, so he'a unlikely to become a good guy. Quite frankly, I kinda hate that idea of yours (no offense) but reverting him back to a good guy would just undo all of his development, and who honestly wants to see good Riddler?

6. I think I saw something about exploring Jim's dark side, and I can only roll my eyes at that one. They just never learn, do they?

About Selina becoming more villainous, I know you don't like it, but I'm honestly all for it! It's time for her to do more things outside of her relationship with Bruce. Her and Tabitha can rise to the top and fight against Penguin for control over Gotham. I'd love to see that.
Tabitha actually can teach her quite a lot. She's older, a more experienced fighter, likely much more competent. Selina is tough and street smart, but she has yet to gain the martial arts skills on par with her future self.

Why are you so against villainous Selina anyway? It's a new and exciting direction. It didn't come out of nowhere. After being pushed away by Bruce, she rethought her life. She wants more than just bare survival. Maybe she'll try power for a change. Catwoman started out as a villain after all, and she doesn't have Batman's no kill rule.

Anyway, if the news I've gathered from reddit prove to be true, I'd say we may get the best season in Gotham yet. It's mostly great news, right?

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

I think I have to break down my rationale a little more, then, especially since this damn article is already a bit outdated with the Comic Con news. So, to Anonymous:

1. Scarecrow comes back as a "main villain"

Yes, as I said, Scarecrow is a good villain, for various reasons.

2. Barbara being brought back by Ra's and being trained by him. Again, this sounds promissing!

Why? What's promising about that? What would be the rationale of Ra's taking an interest in the corpse of Barbara, a girl he never even met? It's some of the most contrived crap I've heard about this show.

3. Season's two halves will be based on Year One and Long Halloween. Delicious, right?

I've often said that Gotham should adapt those two graphic novels. Of course I won't say that's bad. Just throwing out those inspirations is one thing, though. Actually creating a show living up to it is quite another.

4. Lee COMES BACK. Yes, Lee comes back again. Apparently though, they have some plans for her this time around. She's goint to be dark and work with Salomon Grundy and Riddler. As vague as that sounds, this also sounds promissing because they're finally giving her something to do other than being a pointless love interest.

I don't see how that's promising either. Lee has fled the scene twice, and now she's coming back for a second time. She wrote a "heartfelt letter" to Jim at the end of the season, now she's coming back "all bad" again... Like. Sheesh. This is stale storytelling at its finest. She's probably the most misused character on the show. Her comic book version had a purpose, but as you said, on this show she's been either a pointless love interest... or a cartoon villain.

Oh, and she'll work with the Riddler. The same Riddler that she threatened to have killed for murdering her bestie. That makes sense.

5. Riddler will work with Lee and Grundy [...] who honestly wants to see good Riddler?

The P.I. storylines of Riddler were good comics. I was simply speculating on what they could do to make a "different" Riddler. Obviously that idea was wrong, I guess he'll be amnesiac, as will Grundy. How else will those team up?

6. I think I saw something about exploring Jim's dark side [...] They just never learn, do they?

Nope, they don't. There we are in agreement.

About Selina becoming more villainous, I know you don't like it, but I'm honestly all for it! [...] Tabitha actually can teach her quite a lot. She's older, a more experienced fighter, likely much more competent. Selina is tough and street smart, but she has yet to gain the martial arts skills on par with her future self.

In my opinion Tabitha can't teach her a thing. That is, she can't teach her any skillset she doesn't already have. The comic book Leslie could've teached her a lot, as she did. And we already see her beating the crap out of trained martial artists in Worse Than A Crime. We saw her hit a bottle with a whip on her first try. She's a prodigy.

Why are you so against villainous Selina anyway? It's a new and exciting direction. It didn't come out of nowhere.

It's not a new and exciting direction. Selina started out a villain on Gotham. Her character journey has been towards learning different things, letting people into her life, learning compassion. This is what the show is now dismantling. In 'All Happy Families Are Alike' we saw her get a one-episode character transplant rounding up people to be killed sporting a giant machine gun. I wasn't a fan of that, either.

Anyway, if the news I've gathered from reddit prove to be true, I'd say we may get the best season in Gotham yet. It's mostly great news, right?

I have no idea if it'll be good or bad, I just know half the things I hear from San Diego makes my head ache.

Anonymous said...

Okay, Barbara being trained by Ra's sounds contrived now, but lets give them the chance to explain it. It may yet make sense, and at least it gives her something to do. Gotham is arguably at its worst when it can't figure out what to do with its characters but that plot at least can create oportunities to utilize her for something.

Yes, Lee coming back at all is bad news. It makes it pointless for her to leave in season three finale. It undoes the effect of her leaving Jim with a letter. So, yes, Lee should have stayed gone, and the whole fanbase can, I believe, agree on this one. Any storyline they give her at this point is gonna be tacked on, unnecessary and contrived, but there is a silver lining. They're not basing her storyline around romance with Jim! I don't know how they're gonna put her together with Riddler and Grundy, but it's hella better than if the news were: Lee comes back to Gordon. So, yeah. Poor writing, but at least they may not force that romance down our throats again.

I hope to god that they won't go with that cheap amnesia plot device with the Riddler. Maybe he'll be using Grundy? With this one, amnesia would make more sense as he got shot in the head.

Yes, Selina has been learning trust and cooperation, but the development going "in circles" could arguably be more realistic. That and Selina wasn't exactly a full villain at the start of the show. She was a street kid who didn't hold back when it came to self defense and who looked after herself first.
Her relationship with Bruce made her more trusting, but it also tied her storyline permanently to his. When she appeared, it was mostly to aid him. Maybe that relationship needed to be put on halt to explore other directions with her character.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

Well: Selina's relationship with Bruce started with her lying about seeing his parents' murderer in order to get out of jail. That ate on her when she spent time with him to the point where she had to own up to it. In the cruelest fashion possible, sure, but she did demonstrate kindness.

You don't need to untie her relationship to Bruce in order to give her more of a perspective. (Please note that I'm not necessarily pissed off about them breaking up; I just thought the whole process was immensely contrived.) In fact that's been one of my chief criticisms. Of course we need more of Selina's point of view, but hooking her up with a comic book villain to teach her to be more evil? It's character regression.

And then we have the absurdity of "Catwoman meets 'Batman'" slotted for season four, where she will somehow be oblivious it's him, so we will still have "some sort of relationship", only... again, it might only be a cartoonish one. I think both you and me know that makes no sense.

Barbara had something to do. That something was being a hysterical psycho with delusions of grandeur, and she owned that role. There was nothing inherently wrong with her character in season two or three.

Anonymous said...

About Barbara, I agree that there was nothing wrong about her story in seasons 2 and 3, but those are over now. Tabitha had usurped and almost killed her. Barbara the Queen of Gotham arc is over, so now she needs something more to do. Teaming up with Ra's is what they came up with.